Carried Away and Rootless

Tree behind a farmThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we started a study on Psalm 1 called “Rooted.” I love this powerful, pithy psalm.

John Calvin, in his commentary on the Psalms, writes this in reflection on Psalm 1:

the general character of men’s lives is nothing else but a continual departure from the law of God; the Psalmist, before asserting the blessedness of the students of the divine law, admonishes them to beware of being carried away by the ungodliness of the multitude around them.

A couple of weeks ago, I was vacationing with my family and my brother’s family along the Mississippi River. Now, the river was at flood stage at that time because of the strong rains we received over a number of weeks, which we have entirely forgotten about now because it was so hot this past week. The water was high in the Mississippi River because the water was high everywhere: in farmer’s fields and little creeks, in large tributaries and through bogs and swamps. Consequently, the river was filled with all sorts of refuse and driftwood. At times, you could see entire trees that had been uprooted and washed down stream. If you were out in a boat or canoe you would need to stay mindful and attentive to the flow and the various items coming downstream so you wouldn’t be sidetracked or, even worse, destroyed. Now, the problem is that most of this driftwood – even the large trees – ends up coming to ignoble ends: washing ashore, getting lodged against boat docks, or being crushed against dams.

The writer of Psalm 1 is, in one sense, telling us that the life of blessing isn’t like the Mississippi River at flood stage. Why? Because the blessed life does not include getting caught up in the muddy floods of refuse that swirl around us. The image of the first verse of Psalm 1 – and reflected in Calvin’s words above – is of how wickedness and sin carry us away slowly into stoppages and dead-ends.The life of blessing means not going with that sort of flow. The life of blessing means staying rooted, even when the surging around us in friends, our school, our neighborhood, and our culture are at odds with God and His ways.

There is a steady progression in Psalm 1 that reminds me how utterly weak wickedness and sin truly are. The sin and wickedness begins with motion – “going with the flow” – and ends in total decline and dead-ends. Literally, the picture is moving from walking, to standing, to sitting in the company of those opposed to God.

This is quite a contrast to the rooted life of righteousness which is described as “a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3). The blessed life is a “with-God” sort of life that stands rooted and opposed to the steady destructive power of sin and wickedness around us.

Like a boater on the Mississippi River at flood stage, we need to be attentive to the things around us so that we do not get snagged or, even worse, destroyed by the flow of sin and wickedness.

Now, this is no easy matter. All around us is the flow of wickedness. Sure, there are the simple things like sexual immorality and four-letter words, but there are much deeper, insidious forms of wickedness. There are the green eyes of envy that lead us steadily into the paths of jealousy or insecurity. There is gnawing need for more that consumes us with a greed for the latest this or that or lust for such a person. There is the steady power of distraction that often leads us to trifle our lives away. And there is so much more that we need to be attentive to within this ‘flow’ of sin and wickedness.

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